Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Grammar Girl's 101 Troublesome Words You'll Master In No Time by Mignon Fogarty

St. Martin's Press
Released: July 3, 2012
146 pages
Buy here.

I have been a huge fan of Grammar Girl for many years now for three big reasons: one, I myself love grammar and usage discussion; two, Fogarty really does her homework on all her topics; and three, she explains things super clearly and provides great memory tips to help people really learn the points she discusses.

All three of these things continue to be true, and in Fogarty's latest book, she tackles some of the nit-pickier aspects of English usage.  Some of the problems she discusses deal with punctuation issues (e-mail or email?), while others are about spelling, correct plural forms, or slowly shifting meanings.  As always, she uses reputable sources to help her tackle these issues, such as former and current style guides, the Oxford English Dictionary, and real-life examples of each of the 101 words used in context by actual speakers and writers.  A few of the especially troublesome entries include suggestions on how to remember Fogarty's usage advice, some featuring our old pals Squiggly and Aardvark.

A great resource for teachers, students, and writers (as is the Grammar Girl podcast at, this is certainly one to add to your library!

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Eating Mindfully (Second Edition) by Susan Albers

New Harbinger
Released May 2012
312 pages
Buy here.

This book is sort of the anithesis to typical "dieting," as it emphasizes NOT counting calories, relying on your scale, or depriving yourself of your favorite foods.  Instead, Albers posits eating within the four foundations of mindfulness as enumerated by the Buddha: mindfulness of the mind, mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of feelings, and mindfulness of thoughts.  Eating mindfully depends on changing your approach to food in order to accommodate all four of these foundations.  The book is organized by the four foundations, and Albers provides a numbered list of strategies to heed each foundation.  She also includes the occasional exercise (which she labels "skills builders") to help readers immediately incorporate certain strategies into their life.

I personally did not get a whole lot out of this book, only because I am at a stage of my health-reclamation journey where I already learned a lot of the things Albers highlights.  However, I recognize all her advice as valuable since much of it is what I already follow at this point.  One big thing I did take from the book are the idea of eating slowly and really noticing and enjoying your food.  I still don't do this, even though I know I should, and I have tried to start in the past couple of days.  The other concept I found illuminating is the idea of not allowing yourself to have judgmental thoughts about your food choices, and not to categorize foods as "good" or "bad."  This is something I recognize myself doing, and Albers' point is that such thinking leads to guilt rather than satisfaction from eating.  This is something I would certainly like to work on.

This is the second edition of this book with added material, but I honestly don't see what the added material really contributes.  Much of what is in the final section of the book is already brought up (and in more detail) in the earlier sections.  The extra section just seemed to add repetition.

If you are obsessed with dieting and are looking for a more reasonable alternative, definitely check this book out.  In addition to the four foundations framework, Albers includes a lot of resources, both print and web-based, to help readers better achieve the strategies outlined in the rest of the book.

Rating: 3/5

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Hachette Audio
Released 2011
Buy here.

I purchased this audio book not because I an in die-hard fan love with Tina Fey, 30 Rock, or even SNL.  I purchased this audio book because I know enough about Tina Fey to know that I find her reasonably entertaining, and the fact that she narrates this audio version made me certain that her delivery of her own writing would further entertain me more than simply reading the text version myself and imagining her voice in my head.

Boy, did I call that one!

This book is all about Tina Fey, but it isn't a typical, straightforward, chronological autobiography.  Chapters are arranged in, more or less, a birth-to-growing-up-to pre-college-to-college-to-TV-to-marriage-and-kid sort of order, but the chapters don't always necessarily flow seamlessly from one to the next, and sometimes they even move backward, which I kind of liked.  The thing that struck me as really weaving all the chapters together, though, was a sort of successful-woman-in-a-man's-world theme that she brings up in many of her anecdotes, moreso, I think than her title theme of being a boss (though at times the two intersect).  There is a lot going on in this book, though, and her tales of woe, awkward mishaps, crushed spirit, womanhood, and motherhood are told with such candor, self-deprecation, and humor that it is difficult to not be entertained by this book.

The text version of this book isn't long (under 300 pages), and the audio version clocks in at just around 5.5 hours (which, in audio book terms, strikes me as rather short).  If you're looking for a light, fast, fun read (and you don't, at the very least, dislike Ms. Fey), definitely check this one out.

Rating: 3.5/5

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin & Catherine Johnson

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Released 2009
352 pages
Buy here.

Temple Grandin is best known for her work with both autism and animals.  She has worked for many years as a consultant to help large-scale farms improve the housing and slaughtering methods of their animals.  This is her latest book.

In the first chapter, Grandin establishes the framework used in the rest of the book, what she calls the Blue-Ribbon Emotions.  These are seeking, rage, fear, panic, and play.  She also introduces the concept of stereotypies (not a typo, I promise!), which are abnormal behaviors that animals engage in, such as pacing back and forth in a cage or swimming in figure eights in a tank.  Stereotypies occur, Grandin says, when an animal's Blue-Ribbon Emotions are not in balance; for example, if a hunting animal in a zoo is not allowed to engage its natural seeking behavior, it will become depressed and behave abnormally.

Subsequent chapters focus on a single animal/animal group and highlight particular Blue-Ribbon Emotions that need to be engaged, as well as ways of engaging them.  Grandin discusses dogs, cats, horses, cows, pigs, and poultry, and she explains the various ways to house, feed, and transport them with as little emotional stress as possible.  She then moves on to a chapter about wildlife in which she emphasizes the need for animal experts to focus on fieldwork and real-life observation of animals instead of using theoretical models on computers.  Finally, she talks about animals in zoo captivity and how to address zoo animals' Blue-Ribbon Emotional needs.

 The whole point of this book is that different animals have VERY different needs, both from humans and each other, and different types of stimuli could set off their various Blue-Ribbon Emotions.  Grandin describes these differences with clarity, and even though she uses a lot of neuroscientific terminology, she explains with definitions and examples so as not to confuse her readers.  She also cites a lot of other people's books and studies on animal research, so there is plenty of follow-up reading for those who are interested in learning more.

There are only a couple of things I consider drawbacks.  One is that Grandin uses phrases like "I think," "I guess," "maybe this is true," all throughout the book.  I've not read anything else by her, so I don't know if this is just the way she writes, but it definitely takes away from her persona as an objective woman of science, and it makes a lot of her statements very wishy washy.  Grandin also repeats herself in many places, voicing the same point or example more than once.  Other than those relatively minor things, though, I found this to be a great read.

Rating: 4/5

Monday, June 4, 2012

Quiet by Susan Cain

Crown Publishers
Released January, 2012
352 pages
Buy here.

This book is all about what it means to be an introvert in Western society, something that, as an introvert myself, I have struggled with all my life.  Reading Cain's book has made me realize that my introvertedness does not indicate that I am some freak of nature, but rather that I just happen to not belong to the group (extroverts) that our society tends to endorse without real legitimate reason, and that being an introvert does not signal deficiency, but a different set of skills.

Cain carefully explores different elements of the introverted vs. extroverted dichotomy.  In Part One, she deals first with the shift at the turn of the twentieth century in which America began to value the salesman-type personality over simple honorable behavior and how that preference has stuck with us up to today in current trends in classroom and workplace organization.  More importantly, she argues why such preference is not necessarily a good thing.  Part Two focuses on the science behind introversion and extroversion in terms of the nurture/nature argument and how the brains of the two types process chemicals and experiences differently.  Part Three operates as a single chapter of comparison between Eastern and Western ideals in terms of introversion vs. extroversion, and Part Four gives some good advice on and strategies to help your introverted self and/or child through our extroverted society.

The thing I like most about this book is the scope of research Cain puts into it.  She brings together a wide variety of studies and makes them the forefront of each chapter, and this makes the book, in part, an excellent literature review on the various aspects of the topic.  She also includes her own experiences as informal research, and she describes various workshops designed for introverts that she attends, as well as interviews with the people who run those workshops.  Being an introvert herself, she also includes personal anecdotes as well as composite stories of other introverts she has met and helped through their struggles.  She also includes biographical bits about various historical figures who struggled with being introverts.  All these different types of sources help to flesh out the studies that Cain presents, and they also contribute to a more varied and engaging reading experience.

The one pitfall of this book is the organization of material in each specific chapter.  The overall organization of the book across the four different parts is wonderful and makes a lot of sense, but within each chapter, Cain seems to jump back and forth a lot between the studies, her anecdotes, historical figures, and back again.  Given what I just wrote above, this obviously isn't, on its own, a bad thing.  Sometimes it was just hard for me to connect the stories with the science.  The most glaring example of this is in Chapter 6, the title of which highlights Eleanor Roosevelt and in which Cain writes about how Eleanor was an introvert.  This information is given, however, around the research of Dr. Elaine Aron, but the only connection I can see between the two is the way in which Aron is compared to Eleanor Roosevelt on a personal level.  Personally, I didn't feel that particular connection was enough to focus on both in the same chapter.

Still, I feel I got a lot out of this book, particularly, as I mentioned above, the reassurance that there is no need for me to feel like my introvertedness is something that needs "fixing"; it just happens to not be glorified in the school and workplace in the same way that extrovertedness is, and that's not my fault!

Rating: 3.5/5